Hasty step

The proposal to  amend the Juvenile Justice Act to lower the age of juveniles from 18 to 16 is retrograde and  against the best and most enlightened norms of criminal jurisprudence


The women and child development ministry has sent to the law ministry the proposal under which juveniles above16,  against whom charges of crimes are proved, will be punished under the IPC. Under the JJ Act they would have to serve only a maximum period of three years in  a correctional home. The move to amend the act seems to have come  in response to a view that the juvenile who was found guilty of the rape and murder of a young girl in Delhi last December did not receive the harsh punishment which other convicts received, though he is said to have been the most brutal among the offenders.

As the Supreme Court has noted, the behaviour of a juvenile delinquent in a single case cannot be basis for an amendment of law. The age of adulthood, which is 18, is considered to be the age when people can be considered to attain maturity and so can be held responsible for their actions. Juveniles under that age are impressionable and can be more easily influenced. The family and society also have a greater responsibility  for their actions than in the case of adults. There is a better chance of reforming them and making them better citizens if they are in correctional homes. Jails in the country can turn delinquents into hardened criminals. Isn’t it better to give a person, especially a young person, a chance to reform than to make him a criminal for life? It should be noted that the Supreme Court had only recently rejected petitions for lowering the age of  juveniles on the ground that the law for children should be more reformative than retributive. It is surprising that the move to amend the JJ Act has come even after the court has disfavoured it.

The Juvenile Justice Act of 1986 had considered males above 16 as adults. It was later changed to make 18 the cut-off age. There is no reason to go back on this progressive decision. The move to amend the Act on the proposed lines will also be against internationally accepted norms on the rights of children. It will violate UN declarations and conventions which India has signed and ratified. The government should drop the wrong move.

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